Anxious White Men

So, apparently this tweet got kinda popular:

Do I stand by it (and the rest of the “tweet chain?”) Yeah, pretty much. I tend to regard social media as a stream of consciousness kind of thing, i.e. if I have something to say I think might deserve quoting or preserving, I’ll put it here or into one of the shows. But once in awhile I guess a solid thought sneaks out amidst all the shouting into the void.

The fact is, this is something that’s been bugging the shit out of me for awhile now; this amorphous idea that because modernity isn’t “working out” for a certain class of hinterland dipshit we’re not only supposed to look the other way and make excuses when they lash out violently or embrace bigotry (a courtesy that, for some reason, is seldom afforded to nonwhite people in urban areas who turn to crime/violence under difficult circumstances – despite there being actual systemic/societal forces conspiring against them historically) but regard this as some kind of meaningful, special phenomenon that we should all be very, very contemplative about. I just don’t buy it.

The fact of the matter is, a person is not their circumstance – a person is how they react to their circumstance. To me, if someone I know runs into some job hardship and “suddenly” starts bellowing conspiracy theories about “The Mexicans” taking his job; the conclusion I come away from that with isn’t “Aw, that’s sad – hardship has turned him into a racist.” The conclusion I come away with is: “Wow! He hid his racism really well when he was living comfortably.”

This is one of those places where I don’t fit in very comfortably with a lot of the economics-first Left, which lately tends to hold as a matter of ideological faith that racism, misogyny, etc are mainly just symptoms of capitalism forcing us into gladiatorial combat with each other rather than distinct moral/intellectual shortcomings in their own right. I understand why people want to think that: It’s the same impulse that drives conspiracy theories about how certain dangerous psychiatric diagnoses “don’t actually exist”: a lot of very well-meaning people are deeply, profoundly uncomfortable with the idea that some humans are just “bad” right down to their core. We all want to believe that we can become whatever we want to be, so we want to believe that impulses like hatred are wholly curable.

Now, me? I’m not someone who holds the human race (myself included) in what I’d call overwhelmingly high regard. I think that as a species we’ve accomplished remarkable things, but my sense of history (and science, and nature, and general lived experience) is that the collective aspect of that achievement is rather overstated. A relative handful of us have been the visionaries/thinkers/builders/leaders who’ve dragged the rest (often with great resistance) over the goal-lines of cultural evolution, and way more of us are of the “weaker” (in the intellectual/moral sense) stock that’s susceptible to bigotry and hate than will ever acknowledge or even recognize it. That’s the power of societies and civilizations: They provide the incentive and means for that sort of person (read: “that one guy” you know who always seemed so nice but now you know voted for Trump and thinks Breitbart “makes some interesting points”) to keep the worst impulses of their weakness in check.

Maybe that’s the real purpose and goal of social systems in general: Letting us all make our way through life together without ever having to realize just how rotten a plurality of “everybody else” actually is. Either way, the point remains: Just because you didn’t hear “that guy” or “your racist uncle” behaving badly when things were going well for them doesn’t mean hardship “changed” them – it means you’re now seeing their true face. And yeah, I also think it’s worth considering that maybe the “causality” here is, if anything, the exact opposite. I’m no “social darwinist;” but when we keep hearing “This town/city/region is in ruins, that’s why it’s full of angry bigots” shouldn’t we at least ask if it’s the inverse – that the people being shitty and bigoted was the contributing factor to the regional decay, not the other way around?

I don’t necessarily know the answer to that. But what I do know is that plenty of people go through hardships (economic and otherwise) and don’t  “turn into” (read: “reveal themselves to be”) horrible monsters – and it feels decidedly unjust (though unsurprising in the “squeaky wheel” sense) that we seem to have less of an impulse to be sympathetic and generous to them. Even if you do buy into the idea that hardship is “to blame” for hatefulness, isn’t the person who experiences such and doesn’t succumb – who instead rises above – more deserving of your affection and help?

10 thoughts on “Anxious White Men

  1. stephenmcdevitt says:

    Personally, I feel that most angry people who are abusive and narcissistic normally aren’t bothered about improving themselves in order to fit into society. If someone gets a job at an office but when said-individual begins to bully and harass a co-worker for being different in anyway (race, gender, religion, sexuality), they disrupt the work enviroment, making it difficult for everyone else to get their jobs done.

    I know someone who does physical work buts claims me studying in art and design won’t get me “a real job” because I’m just sitting down and typing or drawing all day, not that treats others with similar work to his than mine any better. He claims he can do my work just as well as me despite lacking the talent or patience and then complains about having to do written exams to work a digger as if you don’t need to be up-to-date on things to keep his ever-evolving occupation. Plus he spends most of his time occupying the living room and tv than actually looking for a job and would occasionally live on benefits.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim says:

    Man, speaking of showing someone’s “true face”: I know this online movie critic, and when a Presidential election didn’t go his way he became whiny, narcissistic, bloviating, and convinced of his own moral superiority in the face of a lot of evidence to the contrary. Seriously – you started off this post talking about how people “lash out and embrace bigotry” when they don’t get their way, and not one fucking page later you’re talking about how most of humanity is the dregs getting dragged along by a few “visionaries/thinkers/builders/leaders.” What’s the difference? What, you think “Atlas Shrugged” was talking about Obama, over-the-hill pop stars, and fat guys who do YouTube videos about Muslim superheroes?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Steamed Boot (@steamed_boot) says:

    Hey Bob, great post. Here are some thoughts (sorry for the length):

    1) I understand this is part of your writing style and I don’t expect it to change, but I find it very difficult to critically engage with any writing that frequently uses quotation marks in a somewhat general manner. Not only do I tend to read anything quoted in this way as predominantly sardonic, but I find it substitutes any specific meaning in favour of vague phrases that evoke ill-defined reactions in the reader without the writer actually stating the argument being laid out. Essentially it comes across as nebulous commentary that doesn’t specify the exact substance of the sentiment. I appreciate your use of phrases such as “hinterland dipshits”, as opposed to ““that guy””, as to me it suggests you are saying what you mean rather than deferring meaning to the reader. I acknowledge this is my personal problem however, but as a fan I thought I should pass that on.

    2) I also understand that the exact nuances of complex philosophical concepts cannot be sufficiently addressed in tweets or blog posts, but my takeaway from this piece is: there is a context in which we can categorise people as either fundamentally good or bad people. Unless I’ve misunderstood, the context is how an individual reacts to their circumstance, and the measures are moral/intellectual shortcomings. Put another way, moral/intellectual shortcomings can’t or shouldn’t be solely attributed to systemic/societal forces and can be attributed to the individual.

    I suppose my issue is that I don’t see the necessary indistinction between the moral/intellectual shortcomings of individuals and the moral/intellectual shortcomings of behaviour. While hardship may not directly cause or may not even be associated with bad behaviour, I don’t believe an individual is either good or bad due to good or bad behaviour.

    I can see why this is a problem, as it could be argued that individual responsibility and bad behaviour are divorced, since one’s actions are not metaphysically or conceptually tied to their essence or fundamental being. Meaning, there are no good or bad people, just good and bad behaviour (or actions). Therefore, we cannot say an individual is a good or bad person, regardless of the behaviour they exhibit.

    This is especially a problem since we often do have to define people as either good or bad. I believe that I have to categorise people into groups (such as friends, idols, bigots etc.) in order to be happy. There are some people that just aren’t worth my time listening to or spending time with, because I don’t have an near infinite amount of love, patience, or social skills I can call upon to have any productive communication with them. Not to mention people who may be actively harmful to me. It makes sense to define someone as good or bad, otherwise life would unmanageable.

    However, while this may be a good way of managing your social circles and online interactions, I have found it is an insufficient framework for political discussion. I actually first became a fan of yours due to a similar sentiment I took from one your videos. In The Big Picture “Memorium” episode you identified how Walt Disney was “neither wholly, nor wholly bad, but complicated like most people… It’s always a mistake to make gods out of men, but it’s equally wrong to make devils.” This view really resonated me as it reconciles the apparent goodness or badness of people (specifically public figures) with the moral status of the individual. Your point may not be relevant in this context, but it is the lens through which I consider your work.

    Anyway if this comes across as I am excusing condemnable or contemptible actions, this is not my intent. I am just trying to articulate what I think what others may be trying to express.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. wandriangrey says:

    I’m probably a little too tired to get this typed with any hint of eloquence, but I want to share my two cents.

    1: You’re punching down, Bob.

    The majority of Trump supporters are caucasian blue collar workers. Bob, I respect your opinions but I’m thinking that like sadly many more liberals than I’d care to think you have just completely lost touch with what it’s like to be in the blue collar workforce. Blue collar life is nothing but fatigue and fallacies. Blue collar work is just simply exhausting, there’s no two ways about it. That fatigue greatly reduces a person’s capacity for critical thinking and problem solving skills which means it’s much easier to get suckered into believing some broken logic about how things are(e.g. Muslims are inherently evil/the con artist-game show host-fake billionaire is definitely trustworthy; he wouldn’t say so if it wasn-t true). And when everyone you know is spouting the same fallacious bullshit, it’s hard to disagree. These are your family and friends you’ve known your whole life, you know they’re good people so they’re definitely not lying to you. It’s a bad place to be in. I’m not discounting white privilege by any means, either. It’s absolutely, undeniably worse for minorities and there are clearly fewer opportunities and more obstacles for them than your average Trump supporter. But don’t forget: Trump supporters live that way. Telling them that they suck isn’t going to do anything other than feed into the biases they’ve been encouraged to believe in all their lives.

    2: You’re making liberals look bad by effectively acting like a Trump supporter, writing off whole swathes of people as effectively subhuman just as they do.

    Every conservative I know(I currently and always have been blue collar in a 100% blue collar social group so I’m well acquainted with conservative opinions) believes liberals are “left coast” elitists that want to take their guns away, tell them they’re wrong about everything, how their way of life is ruining the world, oh and we’re too lazy to do anything about fixing things and are probably going to cry when they say mean things about us.

    We need to genuinely be better people and not forget that conservatives are still people too. We’re not going to do anyone any good by becoming the left-wing echo chamber.

    Like

    • Snarkyologist says:

      “Blue collar life is nothing but fatigue and fallacies. Blue collar work is just simply exhausting, there’s no two ways about it. That fatigue greatly reduces a person’s capacity for critical thinking and problem solving skills which means it’s much easier to get suckered into believing some broken logic about how things are”
      You know, for a guy who started off about punching down and losing touch with blue collar work, what you just said there is enormously patronising. Anyone who does manual labour is automatically made stupider just because of their profession? Wow dude, just…just wow.
      To give you an idea of where I’m coming from here, for the last three years I have been working as an archaeologist; specifically as a commercial archaeologist. The idea you have in your head of archaeologists gently brushing away flecks of dirt with toothbrushes? Yeah, those are research archaeologists. Us commercial types are generally subcontracted by building companies to give comprehensive reports on what they might be building through, so we have deadlines to meet and budgets to work in. We don’t use toothbrushes or leaf trowels, we have shovels and mattocks. I spend eight hours of every weekday trying to dig massive holes as quickly and cleanly as I can. I do it for pittance too, I’ve been on a few jobs where the regular construction guys who were on site with us were shocked to learn they actually earned more per day than I did despite me having a masters degree and everything (something which actually makes me a -rarity- in my company as many don’t have any higher education degree at all, let alone one that matches the job.)
      So to run down, I work a labour-heavy job for long hours and low pay. I have exactly the kind of blue collar lifestyle you claim to know about so I take your rather arrogant claims that I should have been ground down into an idiot due to that lifestyle to be insulting on something of a personal level. I accept that maybe we’ve got cultural differences between US and UK here, or maybe you’ve phrased it poorly due to being tired, but your assertions make you sound like exactly the kind of elitist you say the blue collars you know complain about

      Liked by 2 people

  5. written by Kugel says:

    Hey Bob, you pituary retard, you know what the beauty of this is? No matter who wins, you’ll be the first to go regardless. Right wind death squads? You’re gonna get that bullet. Left wing death squads? You’re gonna get that bullet.
    If nobody “wins” and we’ll stay in the status quo more or less, you get to remain the lonely, fat, friendless, unfucked by Lindsay Ellis despite your constant virtue signalling, angry loser you are right now until the bitter end.
    You are the punchline to his mad fantasies.

    Like

  6. joeverlander says:

    Decrying everyone with genuine issues as “racist” is a huge problem – Bob, you supported an individual who didn’t even have the decency to visit most states where economic inequality is throttling the working class, and you mercilessly mocked and ridiculed the other democratic nominee who WAS talking about those issues… and the people who’d support him. And why? Why support someone even more right-wing economically than Trump? Because she’s a woman. That’s the problem here. Equality is a good thing that generally even Conservatives and Liberal can broadly agree on, especially with the passage of time.

    However, when you support someone with a ruinous track record on economics just because they eventually said some nice things about minorities, and then attack those for whom that wasn’t good enough as being “racist” just because the only candidate giving them attention decided to scapegoat Muslims and immigrants for their problems, you’re doubling down the “liberal elite moron” caricature that is the ambrosia of the far-right. Ordinary, healthy, comfortable people don’t hate. Desperate people? They’ll do just about anything to ensure a quality of life for themselves.

    Also, from a non-US perspective, I doubt that the charred bodies of women and children in the middle-east following Bush, and then Obama/Clinton’s “foreign policy” are losing much sleep over the supposed nasty things that Trump is saying. Remember that next time you try to defend those guys.

    Like

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